Rotherham school has its own stricter standard of Covid measures

As cases rise in South Yorkshire, Wales high school exceeds government advice on mixing and mask wearing

For the second time, pupils at Wales high school in Rotherham start the school year during the Covid pandemic. Unlike their friends at neighbouring schools, they will not be mixing with other year groups or parting with their face masks outside classrooms, as the school has decided to implement safety measures stricter than government requirements.

“The measures give a sense of security and confidence to our staff and our students,” said the school’s headteacher Pepe Di’Iasio. “We’ve got to remember that Covid is still here.”

Rotherham has been experiencing a rise in Covid cases over the last few weeks. It is currently one of the most infected areas in England and Di’Iasio is worried that the cases will increase with the beginning of the academic year, as university students return to Sheffield. “There is going to be an influx of people to the area that has one of the highest rates in South Yorkshire,” he said. “And so we wanted to establish some routines that can be maintained for the next three or four weeks. If things go well, we will scale those routines back rather than bring new routines in.”

Year 7 pupils having their Covid tests on their first day of term at Wales High School in Kiveton Park, South Yorkshire.
Year 7 pupils having their Covid tests on their first day of term at Wales High School in Kiveton Park, South Yorkshire. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Di’Iasio said that the stricter measures have been met with support from staff and parents, but he thinks it will be a learning curve for the pupils, especially those arriving from primary schools who did not have to wear masks before. “When students have to have a mask on all the time it is an easy rule to maintain, whereas now they have to remember to put their mask on when they leave the classroom,” he said.

“The masks can be irritating, but they are there for protection,” said Alistair Daoud, a year 12 pupil who has lost his grandmother due to the virus. “I would rather wear a face mask than lose 12 days of valuable learning time for isolation.” However, Alistair is glad that he will only have to wear a mask outside the classroom, as he found it distracting during lessons. Many of his teachers agree with him.

“With the face masks during lessons it was harder to learn the names or tell who is misbehaving. Many pupils would be agitated towards the end of the class,” said Grace Stansfield, a languages teacher at the school. “And especially when teaching languages, it is useful for the children to see you speak.” Like other staff members, Stansfield hopes that the school’s current measures will prevent a return to the stricter regime from last year.

Year 7 pupils having their Covid tests on their first day of term at Wales High School
Year 7 pupils having their Covid tests on their first day of term at Wales High School Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Most of the pupils are happy to comply with the safety measures, pointing out that they are more concerned about the impact that the two years of the pandemic have had on their learning. Eleven-year-old Harriet Burford is starting year 7 and is anxious about transitioning to the larger and more demanding secondary school environment. “During Covid I was home-schooled and I found that hard,” she said. “I was missing a lot of stuff. I tried my hardest to do extra homework to catch up, but it will be a big change for me.”

Charlotte Warner is starting sixth form and is hoping to go on to study criminology at Lincoln University. However, she thinks her A-level exams next year might be a challenge as she does not have any experience of sitting exams. “It’s just something that we will have to get on with and we will be prepared for it along the way, hopefully,” she said, adding that she is staying positive about the future. “I think this year will be better because we know what to expect. During the first lockdown we were not prepared for Covid at all.”

“The world is very different from where it was during the first lockdown,” said Di’Iasio. “All our students that we’ve asked to come in have been tested before the term even started. Parents have been very supportive bringing them in, we have had lots of emails saying that they are really happy with the measures we have put in place. We are very excited to be back teaching.”


Weronika Strzyżyńska

The GuardianTramp

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